Community Voices

Community members across Illinois are sharing their stories. Take a look below, and if you would like to share your story, send us an email at 
We thank each of our community voices, whose powerful stories motivate our work . Our storytellers are: 
  • Mekal Stewart
  • Liam Mcintyre

  • Izabela Famularo

  • Joy Gabrielle Williams

  • Lashaun Thomas

  • China Burton

  • Armoni Todd

  • Isaiah Rogers

  • Jade Mazon

  • Nikaya Johnson

  • Rosalva Nava

  • Cornelia Cye Cye' Simms

  • Ilda Hernandez; Citlali Bueno Lares

  • Lashandra

  • Skyler Dees

  • Apriel Campbell

  • Alfonzo Sieva

  • Jackie Gonzales

  • Jazmin Cerda

  • Luz Melendez

  • Raven Thomas

  • Dianne 

  • Rocio Mancera

  • Ayanna Muhammad

  • Mary Kuhn

  • Milan Tvardek

  • Lettie

  • Maria 

  • Liliana 

  • Silvia

  • Dixon Romeo

  • Maria Valazquez

  • Chris O'Hara

  • Krystal Peter

  • Johnnetta Fort 

  • Humu Issifu

  • Debbie Bogle

  • Debbie Gleason

  • Elizabeth

Skyler, North Lawndale, Chicago

Skyler is a young entrepreneur and chef who loves his community in the North Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago. He is a member of the Family Independence Initiative (FII) and has received cash transfers to help support his family, including his younger brother who has special needs. His mother is in an assisted care facility due to medical issues, so he is the primary breadwinner for the family. Cash, provided to his family without strings gives him a sense of hope and ease. “I know that I will have enough to pay my rent and buy quality, nutritious food that we need to stay healthy, especially since my brother has special needs,” He said.

Having this extra cash available immediately, without the burden of mountains of paperwork or stipulations of how he can spend the money, takes stress out of an already stressful situation. Especially as many families face extra stress with less money during a time of crisis, cash is a lifeline. Knowing he has the back for an emergency like buying bulk supplies during a pandemic is a big deal. The family basics are taken care of and instead of worrying, he has time to focus on his business as a chef, bringing healthy meals to his community when many cannot cook for themselves.

Jade, South East Side, Chicago

My name is Jade Mazon. I am a community member and supporter of Economic Security for Illinois. I wanted to share my story because families like mine deserve more support. Especially in uncertain times, the prospect of The Earned Income Tax Credit being expanded is a welcome one for my family and my community.

I am a life-long resident of the South East Side of Chicago. I am college educated and I live critically below the Poverty Line. Currently, I use my EITC to whittle away my debt. Should the tax credit increase, I know exactly how I would spend it. I would be able to purchase what most would call necessities. I call them luxuries because I normally wouldn’t be able to afford them.

I would get my carpets cleaned professionally, get my cats neutered (the main reason for the carpet needing to be cleaned) and buy a bed for myself. Not a big bed. Nothing fancy or fashionable. Not even a headboard- just a simple twin bed, a frame and mattress. I have been sleeping on the couch for 3 years because I haven't been able to save up for one.

It is very humiliating to admit how I survive. In fact, it makes me feel as though I’m not even human sometimes. I have been in survival mode from a very early age. I remember digging in the dirt for buried treasure to get our electricity turned back on. Later, I was working two jobs to send money home while putting myself through Loyola University. To be honest, juggling jobs wasn’t the hard part. The hardest part was sitting in class after class being under supplied, under prepared and trying to keep up with the students who could afford the technology of the time that always seemed to impress my professors.

I have been in survival mode for as long as I can remember AND I AM WAR WEARY. I am a hard worker. I got my education. I thought I played by the unwritten rules. I am still struggling. The additional tax credit on my income returns would be a transfer of resources that I have earned.

In my community work as an organizer, I have met countless people in similar situations as mine. I personally know hundreds of people that would benefit from expanding this policy. I hope anyone who reads this will remember my story. Please support expanding these successful policies that help give people a chance. 

Alfonzo, Chicago

Alfonzo is the Vice President of the Federacion de Clubes Morelenses. He is a community leader with Casa Michoacan, a member organization of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. He moved to Chicago 25 years ago, and considers Chicago home. Alfonzo has been contributing and paying taxes and founded his own small business, a maintenance company, seven years ago. 

Alfonzo works hard to support his wife and son Ronaldo and would do anything for them. If proposals like the Earned Income Credit are expanded, it makes things a little bit easier for this family and other working families in Illinois. Immigrants, and undocumented workers contribute to our community and should not be left out from state economic empowerment policies. Especially now, when so many hardworking neighbors such as Alfonzo are completely left out of the stimulus funds in the CARES Act.
Families like Alfonzo’s need the extra cash back from taxes. And they are exactly the families the Earned Income Credit was designed to help- poor, working families with children. For example, last year, Alfonzo and his wife bought a specialized stroller for their son Ronaldo. He has special needs and it cost them $900. In addition, the family has monthly expenses for necessary items such as medicine, diapers and other support needs that seem small but add up quickly. 

The family income is around $35,000 a year. This proposal empowers families like Alfonzo’s to get an extra $700 or more back at tax time. Literally every dollar makes a difference for these expenses as more families plan during economic uncertainty. Alfonzo contributes like everybody else. He works hard and invested in his community by creating a business. He, and others like him should share in the Earned Income Credit and be included in other economic recovery efforts at the state level. 

Nikaya, Woodlawn, Chicago

The $500 cash transfer was very impactful. Due to COVID, I had been on and off from work. Things around work became very inconsistent before work eventually died down. The cash transfer allowed me access to money when money was beginning to run low. I was able to save that cash transfer I received as well as take care of some needs. Importantly, I was able to hold on to the money until I was able to get my unemployment and stimulus check. I was also able to shop for groceries and take care of other smaller needs until I received my unemployment and stimulus check. When I first received the cash transfer, I had applied for unemployment but I was unsure of if and when I would actually receive it. This money was a relief!

I was able to help others receive the cash transfer through the #GiveTogetherNow Chicago Fund. I was able to share this information with others in my community and they were able to receive the direct cash transfers too.

Before the cash transfer, I was worried about what was going to happen in the weeks to come. Access to the #GiveTogetherNow Chicago Fund helped to ease my stress, allowed me to pay a few bills and it held me over until I was able to get my stimulus money. This money was so impactful because I did not know when I would receive help from the stimulus fund, unemployment, and I was barely working; yet I knew I could count on this money to come within 3 business days. What a relief! And fortunately, I was able to save some of the money even after bills were paid. This money provided me a cushion I did not have otherwise. 

COVID has impacted my life dramatically. I have been out of work for the last 4 weeks. It has been different since I have not been able to work. As the state begins to reopen, by June, I am hopeful to begin working again. However, I am making sure that I do not touch my savings because we do not know what the future holds. If June comes and we are still in quarantine, I will have to find work from home but fortunately, I will have money saved in case.

I am very appreciative of this fund. I am happy to have been able to help others and share this information with others to get them the help they needed as well.

Rocío, Evanston

Hello, my name is Rocío Mancera. I have lived in the Evanston community for 19 years and I am involved with the COFI program, the Latino High School Committee, and am Vice President of BPAC. My experience in this pandemic is more difficult than it would be for others because I have a new baby and my husband became unemployed. I have health problems and this situation makes it even more taxing for myself and my four children. I also know that other families are also experiencing a crisis at this time. I do not have access to the stimulus money, and it is devastating. I am here to advocate for myself and for all the families that need the support of the Illinois government. I as well as other families pay taxes, and my children are American citizens. It is not fair that we are not being taken into account. That is why we ask the government of Illinois to support us in this cause.

Hola mi nombre es Rocío Mancera he vivido en esta comunidad de Evanston por 19 años. Estoy involucrada con el programa de COFI, en el comité latino de la High school y he sido vicepresidente de BPAC. y mi experiencia en esta pandemia es más difícil de lo que normalmente es por qué tenemos un nuevo baby  y mi esposo se quedó desempleado. Yo tengo problemas de salud, y esta situación hace más difícil nuestro bienestar y el de nuestros 4 hijos. También sé que otras familias están experimentando esta crisis en este momento. Yo no tuve acceso al dinero del estímulo y es devastador. Estoy aquí para abogar por mí y por todas las familias que necesitemos el apoyo del gobierno de Illinois. Yo al igual que otras familias pago impuestos y mis hijos son ciudadanos americanos no es justo que no nos tomen en cuenta. Por eso le pedimos al gobierno de il que nos apoyen en esta causa.

Maria, Aurora

My name is Maria Gonzalez. I have lived in Aurora for the past 16 years. I am involved with COFI and in the Getting Ahead program. I have been taking ESL classes which were canceled by the pandemic. My experience during COVID-19 has been difficult as a single mother since I must work to cover my basic needs. However, I became unemployed because of a COVID-19 case at my job and now I am at home because of a COVID-19 case at my daughter's daycare as well. I have gone two weeks without working, without having any other source of income in my house. I have been paying taxes for the last 16 years with an ITIN number to the federal and state government. Due to this situation, I am not eligible to receive my girls' tax credit in full each year even though they are American citizens. I did not have access to the stimulus check, and it is overwhelming since I have the same rights as families who pay taxes with an SS number. So, I ask the government of Illinois for financial support not only for me, but for all the families that were excluded in the federal stimulus package. 

Mi nombre es Maria Gonzalez he vivido en la comunidad de Aurora IL por 16 años. Estoy involucrada con el programa de COFI, y en el programa Getting Ahead, he estado tomando clases de ESL las cuales fueron canceladas por la pandemia.  Mi experiencia durante el COVID19 ha sido difícil como madre soltera ya que tengo que trabajar para cubrir mis necesidades básicas. Mi hija de 8 años está en una guardería, y es devastador tener que llevarla diariamente a un lugar donde puede ser infectada de coronavirus al igual que yo corremos el mismo riesgo diariamente. Estuve desempleada por un caso de covid19 en mi trabajo y ahora estoy en casa por un caso de covid19 en la guardería de mi hija. Tengo dos semanas sin trabajar, sin contar con otro ingreso en mi casa. Tengo 16 años pagando impuestos con un número ITIN al gobierno federal y estatal.  Debido a esta situación, yo no califico para recibir el pago de mis niñas en los impuestos cada año aun siendo ellas ciudadanas americanas. Yo no tuve acceso al dinero del estímulo y es devastador ya que tengo los mismos derechos que las familias que pagan impuestos con un número de SS. Por eso suplico al gobierno de il su apoyo económico no solamente para mi, pero para todas las familias que fueron excluidas en el estímulo federal.

Esther, Elgin

My name is Esther Rosas. I have lived in the Elgin community for 23 years. I am involved with the Parents with Power program from COFI in Elgin and I am an active volunteer at my children's school, Coleman Elementary. In my COVID-19 quarantine experience I have seen how the community of Elgin tries to cooperate and stay healthy and informed. In Elgin we have information about health programs, information from the city of Elgin, training in libraries, and support from our schools and parishes. I know in advance that if we were treated equally like citizens, documented and undocumented, and had been included with the federal economic stimulus like other families that pay their taxes, we would not have to worry about so many payments for services and we would only be patiently focused on getting ahead and focusing more on how to keep ourselves and our children safe. Equality and equity are something that we want to see in the city of Elgin not only in some things but in all the benefits from the government. So, we ask the IL government to support us in this time of crisis by approving a budget where ALL workers are included due to paying taxes.

Mi nombre es Esther Rosas he vivido en la comunidad de Elgin por 23 años estoy involucrada con el programa de COFI Padres con Poder en Elgin, y participo como voluntaria en la escuela de mis hijos, Coleman Elemental. En esta experiencia de cuarentena del COVID19 he visto como la comunidad de Elgin trata de cooperar y mantenerse saludable he informada, En Elgin tenemos información de programas de salud, de la ciudad, capacitación en las bibliotecas y apoyo de nuestras escuelas y parroquias. De antemano sé que si fuéramos tratados con la misma piedad como ciudadanos documentados y sin documentos y hubiésemos sido incluidos con el estímulo económico ya que al igual que otras familias pagamos impuestos no tendríamos que preocuparnos de tantos pagos de servicios y solamente estaríamos pacientemente enfocados en salir adelante y enfocarnos más en cómo mantenernos seguros nosotros y nuestros hijos. La igualdad y equidad es algo que queremos ver en Elgin no solamente en algunas cosas sino en todos los beneficios del gobierno. Por eso le pedimos al gobierno de IL que nos apoye en este momento de crisis al aprobar un presupuesto donde TODOS los trabajadores seamos incluidos por el hecho de pagar impuestos.

Silvia, Elgin

Hi my name is Silvia Martinez I have lived in the Elgin IL community for 9 years. I am involved with the COFI program, I am a catechist at St Maria’s parish. I participate in a group of parents called Emmaus at my church, I am a student of English classes at the YWCA, and I am an active mother in the community. My experience during COVID19 is that since this pandemic started in my family we have suffered the consequences because I lost my job and my husband was out of work for weeks, then he got reduced hours at work and that affected too much at home since we are a family of 6 people, my husband, four children and myself. My children will have to suspend their college classes because we will not be able to cover the expenses. We are a family that works very hard to meet the basic needs of our children. We are excellent citizens, we have complied with the law paying our taxes using an ITIN number issued by the IRS, but the unexpected surprises us from one day to the next a PANDEMIC that affects us all without a doubt but that happens to many families like mine that did not receive the economic stimulus from the federal government for not having a social security number, so on behalf of many families who are in the same situation as myself, I ask the IL government to help us so that all undocumented families receive help like everyone who works to support a family and contribute to the economy of this country. Thank you.

Hola mi nombre es Silvia Martinez he vivido en la comunidad de Elgin IL por 9 años. Estoy involucrada con el programa de COFI, soy catequista de la parroquia Sta Maria. Participo en un grupo de padres Emaús parroquia, soy estudiante de clases de inglés en YWCA y soy una madre activa en la comunidad. Mi experiencia durante el COVID19 es que desde que comenzó el covid-19 en mi familia hemos sufrido las consecuencias debido a que yo perdí el trabajo y mi esposo estuvo sin trabajo por semanas le recortaros las horas y eso afecto demasiado en el hogar somos una familia de 6 personas, mi esposo, yo y cuatro hijos mis hijos deberán suspender sus estudios de colegio debido a que no podremos cubrir los gastos. Somos una familia que trabaja muy duro para cubrir las necesidades básicas de nuestros hijos. Somos unos excelentes ciudadanos, hemos cumplido con la ley pagando nuestros impuestos usando un numero ITIN expedido por el IRS, pero lo inesperado nos sorprende de un día para otro una PANDEMIA que nos afecta a todos sin duda pero que pasa muchas familias como la mía no recibieron estimulo económico del gobierno federal por no tener un número de seguro social por lo cual en nombre de muchas familias que se encuentran en la misma situación que yo  le pido al gobierno de IL nos ayuden para que familias indocumentadas reciban ayuda como toda persona que trabaja para sacar adelante a una familia y contribuye con la economía  de este país. Gracias.

Liliana, West Side, Chicago

Liliana has been a LIFT-Chicago member for almost a year and a half and, in her time with LIFT-Chicago, she's made great strides towards achieving her dream of obtaining her real estate license. Though, when COVID-19 hit, she had to suddenly sideline that dream. Her priority was, and is, making sure her young son is taken care of and that her family is safe. With the loss of income, inability to work, and ever present costs of food, rent, etc., Liliana was unsure how she was going to cover everything - until the #GiveTogetherNow campaign.
When Liliana received her cash transfer, everything was back on track. In her words, "I received the emergency fund and it was positive because I now have the last 20% of funds I need so I can work in real estate and purchase a cell phone." She's been able to continue pursuing her real estate license and has used the cell phone she purchased to continue connecting with her LIFT-Chicago coach to stay on track towards her goals. In the midst of the added stress of city-wide shutdowns, Liliana was able to take solace in the fact that she'd have money - easily accessible and without strings attached - to cover her family's basic needs and continue progressing towards her own dreams. 

Dianne, Calumet Park, Chicago

Dianne did not qualify for the stimulus package. For the past several years, she has been a caretaker for her children and a stay-at-home mom.


Dianne informed us that she did not expect her household to be included in the recipients of the stimulus package. Had her family been included, she informed us that, “the stimulus package would have served as an early christmas gift”. Dianne’s family survives on $700/ month and has a family of seven children. She is privy to having her family’s needs met on what she has.

Had Dianne qualified for the stimulus package, she would have used the money to buy a car. Dianne’s son has autism. Although Dianne does have access to government assistance, such as a Medicaid, she does not have the proper means to take her child to medical appointments and help the other children get to school and work safely. Dianne was told that her son, who has autism, would never speak. Despite the odds, he recently  began speaking and is needing to attend occupational and speech therapy to help with his progression. This is great for Dianne, but Medicaid will only allow for Dianne’s son to attend speech and occupational therapy through Chicago Public Schools. There is currently a wait list and Dianne has been waiting months to get her son in the program. Dianne did find a loophole which would allow her to receive services for her son, but the facility is over an hour away from her home. While Medicaid does provide transportation services, Dianne informed that it is not a reliable source.

Access to the stimulus package would have allowed Dianne the opportunity to get transportation to help meet the needs of her family. Dianne has four children in high school and two children in grammar school. She also has a child in college who is now home due to the university closing; causing her student to lose employment. 

Although Dianne’s family was excluded from the stimulus package, she has no negative feelings towards being excluded. Dianne stated, ”the US is behind other countries. Canada and the UK residents are getting much more with little or no ramifications; the stimulus package is just a bandaid for what we are experiencing.” Dianne left us with this, “I personally feel everyone should have been included but my reality told me that there were going to be many left out.”

Economic Security for Illinois

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